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I want: a virtual server that does nothing but run a web browser and pipe I/O through VNC.

For: getting a full web browser that renders fast on any device that runs a VNC client including pocketables like phones and ipods.

Why: because pocketables like phones and ipods have lots of browser limitations, and they render slowly because of their slow CPUs, but they're good at decoding video for VNC.

Do you know of any services or virtual server images out there that do this or similar?

Bonus points: a cloud-based system for more CPU at lower cost

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Any VPS should work for this. It just needs to have enough ram to load a gui. IceWM is the lightest gui I can think of for linux where firefox also functions. Its relatively easy to configure. http://psychocats.net/ubuntu/icewm Most vps providers offer ubuntu server as an option.

The opera mobile browser actually provides this service, by proxying content on its end and shrinking it for its mobile browser. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opera_Mini

Blackberry enterprise server can be configured to do the same for blackberry devices.

If iphone,ipad, and ipod are specifically your targets, EveryAir (http://www.everyair.net) could be used instead of vnc. Its a very fast remote desktop client which allows even 3d games to be streamed to a device smoothly. The 'server' part of it is just two files and it doesn't need to be installed to be used. The app part of it is pretty slick, designed to work with apple devices.

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Firstly, you can open your open computer/network up to accept incoming RDP/VNC connections and install a corresponding client on your portable device.

If your home computer is busy doing other stuff, it's not that difficult to set up a second computer available on your home internet connection that has an account/software dedicated to not doing much else except running a web browser and appropriate remote access software.

I've not too much experience with VPS providers, but if you sign up for one, it's pretty much up to you what you want to do with it. If all you want to do on the virtual server is run a web browser and remote access software, then that shouldn't be a problem.

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I should have said; part of the criteria is: minimal configuration and very lightweight so I can run it on a cheap VPS. –  themirror Dec 5 '10 at 6:47
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